Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Nancy Drew, Sibley’s and Me

Speaking of books, actual books, (the smell, the feel, the crack of the spine) it’s Nancy Drew’s 89thbirthday and I’m gonna go all nostalgic because May is my 69thbirthday month and that’s what old people do. We do nostalgia and we do it well.

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Back in the old days, the 50’s, we had actual adventures. Not the kind where you hit send and in two days you get your new book delivered to your door, or even quicker if you go the e-book route.

Buying an adventure book required an adventure.

We lived in Rochester, a small but busy city in New York state, famous for Kodak, Xerox, George Eastman, and now, Wegman’s. It had a real downtown with your choice of real department stores. The biggest was Sibley, Lindsay and Curr, although people had their favorites, maybe Edward’s or McCurdy’s. B. Forman’s for the elite. I could wander around any of them forever, depending on my mood. The toy department at Sibley’s was especially magical and included books. Series were big in those days, all lined up under the glittering lights, organized by volume. (Sibley’s also had a gourmet food department and as a child I became fascinated with exotic foreign cheese, a fascination which remains active to this day, requiring a statin.)

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I got a dollar every week as allowance. (I have no recollection of what I did to earn that dollar. Maybe I babysat my younger sister. In the old days nine year olds could babysit five year olds.) I was also allowed to take the city bus from the corner of our street. Alone, for one shiny dime, the No. 11 bus took me right to Main and Clinton and the Sibley, Linday and Curr. (Walking through the brass revolving doors always gave me the same thrill that I was, a decade later on a much bigger adventure, going to experience the first time I walked through the Damascus Gate into ancient Jerusalem, again all by myself.) In it’s heyday, all shiny and brassy with it’s huge clock and polished granite floors, Sibley’s was the largest such store between New York City and Chicago. It set my sights high, my expectations for a big and brave life. Just Like Nancy Drew.

Nothing bad ever happened to me on those trips downtown. I was warned not to talk to strangers unless they worked in the stores, and not to go farther than Sibleys, and Levis Music store a half block east on Main, where I could choose my piano music for my weekly lesson.

Soon I wandered a little farther both east and west. Scrantom’s Books and Stationary fueled my life long passion for office products and the feel of fine paper. The Planter’s Peanut Shoppe fueled my passion for hot, salty nuts (see “statins” above.) Fannie Farmer chocolates on the corner gave me the same migraines then as chocolate gives me now, but oh the smells co-mingling from the chocolate store and her neighbor the peanut shoppe. And I could get whatever I wanted! Both my father and uncle worked in office buildings a few blocks beyond but I never went that far and they would not have known what to do with a little girl popping in as this was long before ‘Take Your Daughter to Work Day.’ And I would not have wanted my independence compromised with reminders of hierarchal relationships. In those hours I was my own boss. Eventually I even crossed the street to Midtown Plaza, where as an adolescent I would jump, high on cough syrup, into the fountain and get hauled outside by the police. But that was after a certain loss of innocence and nothing Nancy Drew would have ever have condoned.

My early life was tactile, sensory. I took the bus and wandered through aisles of books, I touched each one, my weekly Nancy Drew in the order I expected it to be, always crisp and perfect.

Don’t get me wrong, I know my parents were glad to get rid of me when they could. Girls like me, we are never easy. I stayed out way past dark. I rode my blue Schwinn two-wheeler wherever I wanted, to the edge of woods where I could jump off and explore creek beds, wondering how far they would take me.

My independence got the best of me for a while, but never so badly that I was changed in the ways that women often are changed. Now-a-days I huff and puff up to the edge of the woods and I don’t go too far in, although I think about it. I want my 70thbirthday to hurry up and come so I can get it over with. I’ll be a relic just like the grand dame Sibley’s and the soon-to-be 90 year old Nancy Drew.

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